Oghuz Turks Migrate to Transoxiana Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The conquering and occupation of the Transoxian region of Central Asia, or Transoxiana, marked the beginning of the Turkic people’s control of much of the Middle East. The Oğhuz people, led by the Seljuk tribe, swept south from Central Asia, defeated the old Muslim Empire, and created a new one that would eventually become the Ottoman Empire.

Summary of Event

Central Asia has always been a place where civilizations have met and clashed. Bordered by China in the east, Europe in the west, and the Islamic states in the south, it has been conquered and controlled by several large empires. During medieval times, the steppes of Central Asia were home to two competing groups, the Islamic caliphate headquartered in Baghdad (soon to be replaced by the Persian Empire) and the Turks, or Ogŏuz Confederation, north of the Oxus River. [kw]Oğhuz Turks Migrate to Transoxiana (956) [kw]Turks Migrate to Transoxiana, Oğhuz (956) [kw]Transoxiana, Oğhuz Turks Migrate to (956) Transoxiana Oğhuz Turks[Oghuz Turks] Migrations;Oğhuz Turks to Transoxiana[Oghuz Turks to Transoxiana] Central Asia;956: Oğhuz Turks Migrate to Transoxiana[1210] Expansion and land acquisition;956: Oğhuz Turks Migrate to Transoxiana[1210] Subüktigin Maḥmūd of Ghazna

The Ogŏuz Turks originated in the region of Mongolia and were pushed westward and southward by the Mongols during the sixth century. They settled in the region between Lake Baikal and the Aral Sea in the northern portion of Central Asia. The Ogŏuz were part of a loosely based confederation of tribes who had different cultures, languages, and political systems. The broad plains in the north and mountainous areas of the south also prevented a central authority from establishing itself over the tribes. Yet the Ogŏuz had the reputation of being fierce fighters, a quality favored by the powers that controlled Central Asia south of the Oxus. It was the need for these fierce fighters that eventually led the Ogŏuz to move south of the Oxus and invade the Middle East.

The Transoxian region refers to the territory between the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers. This piece of land was the dividing line between the territory controlled by the nomadic Ogŏuz and the Muslim Persian Empire. The Oxus River (today known as the Amu Dar’ya River) flowed through the entire Central Asian region. It began in the high Pamir Mountains, a range near the Chinese border, and flowed northward to the Aral Sea. Immediately to its north is the Jaxartes, which also flowed from the Pamir Mountains, through the modern country of Uzbekistan and into the Aral Sea. North of this territory were the wild steppes of inland Asia. South of the line was the more mountainous territory controlled by different Persian empires. The region between the two rivers could best be described as the Fertile Crescent of Central Asia. It was a trading center for the Silk Road from Europe to China.

The Oxus was a wild river, frequently shifting course and making it a dangerous crossing for any invader. For this reason, it served as the ideal barrier against invasion by those north of the river who might attack the Persian Empire. The Transoxian region resembled the Roman Empire’s Rhine and Danube River borders. The Turkic tribes to the north were considered barbarians in Muslim civilization because of the Turks’s nomadic lifestyle. When the ՙAbbāsids had conquered the Persians in the mid-eighth century, they halted at Transoxiana and did not challenge the power of the Ogŏuz tribe. The ՙAbbāsids ՙAbbāsids[Abbasids] and their successors, the Sāmānids Sāmānid Dynasty[Samanid Dynasty] , controlled the region for two centuries and ensured that the Middle East was secure from the marauding bands.

Although the Oxus was an effective physical barrier to invasion, the Ogŏuz Confederation also had its own difficulties. Composed of several tribes, the Ogŏuz were not powerful enough on their own to challenge the empires to the south and were unwilling to combine their strength. It was only when the southern empires became weak and dependent on the Ogŏuz for mercenary troops that the Ogŏuz were able to challenge their neighbors to the south.

The Ogŏuz were constantly moving, pushed from the north and east by the Mongols and other Asian tribes. As the tribes of the Ogŏuz federation moved south, they faced two different empires. The ՙAbbāsid caliph controlled the massive Muslim armies that conquered much of the Middle East, including the Persian Empire. The caliphate extended its power to and beyond the Oxus River, controlling the cities of Samarqand and Bukhara, which had served as trading posts and economic centers in Central Asia for centuries. It was between the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers that the Ogŏuz came into contact with the ՙAbbāsid Dynasty.

The ՙAbbāsids ruled for several centuries and used members of the fierce tribes to their north as surrogate troops. Eventually, the power of the ՙAbbāsids declined, and they were defeated by a new Persian dynasty, the Sāmānids. This dynasty ruled Persia, and their empire stretched from Mesopotamia to India and to the region between the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers.

However, the Sāmānids were not as powerful as the ՙAbbāsid caliphs and came to rely increasingly on surrogate troops from the Ogŏuz to maintain their control in Central Asia. By the middle of the tenth century, the Sāmānids had established much of their government in Transoxiana. They made Bukhara their capital city, increasing the vulnerability of their government to the Ogŏuz.

The Ogŏuz Confederation’s close proximity to the ՙAbbāsid and Sāmānid Empires led to a conversion of many of the Turkic tribes to Islam Islam;Seljuk Turks . The Seljuks were converted in 956, and during this time there were mass conversions of tens of thousands of Turkic people.

Even with their shared religious beliefs, however, the Sāmānids and the Ogŏuz experienced a deteriorating relationship during the middle of the tenth century. High taxes, a clumsy and overbearing government bureaucracy, and a growing dependence on the Turks for the defense of Sāmānid territory weakened the empire.

A series of small rebellions revealed the Sāmānid vulnerability to attack. In Afghanistan, the fortress city of Ghazna fell to the Turkish general Subüktigin Subüktigin , who declared the city independent of the Sāmānid Dynasty. His son, Maḥmūd Maḥmūd of Ghazna , began the Ghaznavid Dynasty Ghaznavid Dynasty in Central Asia. Maḥmūd would lead his Turkic followers south and east into India, spreading the Muslim faith into that region. The loss of Ghazna and its establishment as an independent empire led to further attacks between the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers.

As the tribes of the Ogŏuz Confederation moved into Transoxiana, then south of the river, they began to use the Persian officials to operate their growing empire. At the end of the tenth century, the Seljuks and other Turkic tribes moved south and west into Persia and toward the Mesopotamian region.


The penetration of the Transoxian region marked the decline of the river Oxus as a boundary between the civilized Muslim civilizations south of the area and the “barbarian” tribes to the north. The movement south also exposed the weaknesses of the Sāmānids, opening the Middle East to conquest and control by the nomadic Seljuk Turks, who were fierce warriors and rulers. The successors to the Seljuks would eventually create the Ottoman Empire, which would rule the Middle East for centuries.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baldick, Julian. Animal and Shaman: Ancient Religions of Central Asia. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Describes the earliest belief systems of the Central Asian tribes and their replacement by Islam.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Di Cosmo, Nicola, ed. Warfare in Inner Asian History. Boston: Brill, 2002. Discusses the means and tactics of warfare among the early tribes that settled in Central Asia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gordon, Matthew. The Breaking of a Thousand Swords. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. Details the tribes, conflicts, and cultures of Central Asia during medieval times.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grotenhuis, Elizabeth, ed. Along the Silk Road. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2002. Provides pictures of modern Central Asia and text detailing the Silk Road and its path through Central Asia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kafesogla, Ibrahim. A History of the Seljuks. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. Covers the rise of the Seljuks within the Ogŏuz Confederation and their eventual domination of much of the Islamic world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richards, D. S., trans. The Annals of the Seljuk Turks. London: Routledge Curzon Press, 2002. A modern translation of the stories and myths surrounding the rise of the Seljuk Turks in Central Asia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Soucek, Svatopoluk. A Short History of Central Asia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A concise overview of the Central Asia region from ancient to modern times.

Categories: History